Years of experience on the job can turn the average professional into a niche expert. This, in turn, can make older employees of incredible value to their employers. Understanding how a system works, how a product works or how your employer processes orders can make performing a job simpler. It can even help you catch issues before they arise and allow you to make intelligent suggestions to improve performance and efficiency.
Sadly, far too many employers view older employees as a burden instead of an opportunity. Instead of looking at workers approaching retirement age as the experienced and knowledgeable professionals they are, employers may only see them as a risk factor for increased health insurance claims. Managers may view older workers as slower or less productive, even if there is no evidence of a discrepancy in performance based on age. That can result in age discrimination that hurts the careers of older Americans.
Older workers are protected under federal law
Age discrimination is not a new issue that resulted from the technological Renaissance of the last few decades. It has been an issue for as long as there have been workplace protections in the United States. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 made it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers who are over the age of 40. It is not illegal to favor an older worker over a younger one, but it is against the law to favor youth over experience without valid reason.
While advances in technology often seem to favor younger job seekers, who will have an easier time adapting to new ways of doing things, that doesn't mean that older workers can't learn and adapt as well. In fact, older professionals can combine new technological advances with their own experience to ensure better overall performance, provided that employers provide adequate training and support.
Older workers may face overt or discrete discrimination
Some companies will allow an openly hostile work environment to impact their older workers. This could include co-workers or managers making jokes at the expense of older workers or older adults in general. This could impact an older professional's ability to maintain a strong performance in one's position. It could also lead to other forms of discrimination, such as demotions, getting passed over for promotions, unfair wage practices or even termination.
Sometimes, a culture that discriminates against older workers is more subtle. They may simply not receive adequate opportunities for advancement or may not provide education to help older workers close the technological gap with younger workers. Whether you're facing a work day full of jokes about your age or appearance, or you just can't seem to get the support you need to thrive, you should carefully look at whether your employer is discriminating against you and other older workers.